Discussion throws light on luminaries' minds

While watching a movie, how often do we encounter at least one song or a dance sequence that really does not fit into the narrative? And in an era of adaptations, how many times have we wondered how a novel gets reduced to a script of 300 pages, which is later conceptualised into a three-hour movie. How important it is to be faithful to the original work, and if making movies from novels is the new rage, why has not the trend of novelists getting inspired by movies to expand them to works of literature picked up?

For those keen on figuring out the nuances of cinema's special place in the Indian narrative tradition, the panel discussion at The Hindu's ‘Lit for Life 2011', comprising film makers Anjum Rajabali, Balu Mahendra, Singeetham Srinivasa Rao and K. Hariharan provided a glimpse into the minds of luminaries who have spent lifetimes engaging with the medium.

“Camera cannot function like a stylus or pen,” said Mr. Hariharan on the art of transforming words into images, as he set the tone for discussion. Screenplays should be complete but not over written, added Mr Rajabali, on how important it is to demarcate between the stages of screen play writing and writing for shooting so that the director does not interfere with the writing. “It is just a blueprint, it cannot have camera angles. Let the director and technicians do their job,” he said. A dominant theme throughout the discussion was the privileged position of the novelist in being able to unleash his imagination of the reader without having to subscribe to the constraints faced by screen play writers do, including post release distortions of adding subtitles.

But then how does one make movie out of a literary work?

“For instance, take Devdas, the novel has so much about the social fabric but what all the film makers did was to focus on the love story which is eternal. They often tend to harp on the essential part, leaving out the rest that will anyway be history,” said Mr. Rao. Others on the panel pointed to the awkwardness exhibited by youngsters when it came to viewing songs as part of the movie. “I love songs but I don't like them when I am making movies.,” said Balu Mahendra. “Many have a problem with the way songs are added. But there is also a need to educate the foreign audience on the cultural context,” said Mr. Rajabali.

The collaborative essence of cinema and literature was also the focus of a discussion as Shabana Azmi, in conversation with Urvashi Butalia, revealed little-known details about her mother, Shaukat Azmi, whose personal account has been made into a book, ‘Kaifi And I' that talks about the politics and struggle of the 1950s.

“She did not have to know the politics of that time. She lived it,” said Ms Azmi, as she spoke about her mother, a stage actor from an affluent Muslim family married to a poet Kaifi Azmi, an ardent communist, and about life in Mumbai. The story talks about her struggles in making ends meet and also the frankness with which she criticises the politics of those times that asked her to abort her child because there was not anybody to support it, even as she was amazed at its commitment to serve the cause of equality.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012